Friday, December 24, 2010

Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him

I am not a fan of over-indulgence, commercialism, or materialism. Christmas time then, as with every other holiday, is often hard for me to swallow as I see it practiced in the media, department stores, and our culture. Always, it seems, the real reason we celebrate is pushed aside as we wake up early for Black Friday specials and max out our budgets spending for holiday gifts that are frequently spur-of-the-moment and, let's be honest, sometimes just stuff to put under the tree. But if Christmas is not in the gifts and the happy jingle bell music and the red and green colors and the "North Pole" display at the mall, where is it?

This is a question I ask myself each year, because to be honest, surveying the frenzied "celebrating" that goes on every December just makes me more and more desirous to NOT teach my children traditional Christmas traditions, and to pretty much hide my head the entire month. The memories that I always come back to, however, keep me from "Grinching" myself up, remind me of what the true spirit of Christmas is, and give me hope that, despite what we see going on around us, it is still possible to keep Christ in Christmas.

Let me share two memories I have with you that keep this hope burning.
The first is from when I was about five years old. We lived in a small, run-down house in a small community where we knew pretty much everyone and everyone knew us. My family didn't have a lot, and for Christmas this one particular year, two unknown benefactors had brought us some food. Though I'm sure we could have made use of it, instead of keeping everything for us my mom had an idea: she took one of the hams and packed it and us kids and my dad up in the car and we drove to a friends house. Roger was the name of the friend, and he was a man who lived near our neighborhood, divorced and alone. Roger was a long-haul truck driver who rode a Harley when he wasn't gone, and parked his 18 wheeler next to his house when he was home--the truck dwarfed the little white, two bedroom place he lived in. I remember being confused as to why we would be visiting him--he wore black leather and had a big, bushy beard and to me had always looked really scary--I didn't know him very well. My mom though, in her typical, big-hearted and friendly fashion, had thought of him when we had more than we needed, and we took the ham to his house and sat and visited with him awhile. He let me play with a kaleidoscope he had bought somewhere, and my sister and brother and I colored on his tiny kitchen table. I found out that he wasn't at all the big scary man I imagined him to be. In fact, a few years later when my dad was gone for some reason and my brother needed a substitute father for an activity at church, he called Roger who, flattered, dressed in his best black leather and picked my brother up on his motorcycle to take him.
When I think of the reason for Christmas, I often think of Roger, and the mysterious good Samaritan who gave to us so that we could give to him. I think of him in his black leather at church, beard trimmed, smiling and waving his fingers at my sister and me and singing the hymns loudly from the back row. I think of what I would have missed out on as a child if I hadn't know Roger. Since then, when I think of Christmas, I think of him and that one December night. 

The other memories I have which help me enjoy rather than resent the season are of the traditions my family keeps each year. To us, the most important part of Christmas is the days leading up to it when we decorate the house, get a tree, listen to Christmas carols, and make treats to share with others. We usually go caroling, we ALWAYS do the 12 Days of Christmas, and on Christmas morning we have a blast eating our traditional breakfast together and reveling in the last moments of excitement and anticipation before we open gifts. As everyone has gotten older the pleasure of Christmas centered on the bright paper and gifts seems to be getting displaced by the joy of being together and sharing time with one another. Though I sometimes miss the innocent butterflies-in-stomach kind of sleeplessness from when I was little, waking-up during the night to check the tree, creeping to find my stocking in the darkness, I love better now seeing the smiles on my younger siblings faces and truly giving, rather than recieiving, heartfelt gifts. When I think of Christmas, I hear scratchy John Denver Christmas songs and smell Orange Rolls and see colorful shadows and reflections of Christmas tree branches and lights on a darkened living room wall while lying next to my little brother on the ground, watching the scene. I think of the exuberance of my siblings when we sing to elderly neighbors and how fast my brothers run after doorbell ditching a "12 Days" recipient. In our home, we all believe in Santa Claus--not as a man in a red suit who will bring us everything we ever wanted, but as a feeling we all accept into our hearts and a place we all fill when we reach out and give to others.

In the hustle and bustle of this season, when I'm feeling frustrated with endless consumerism and cheery pointy-toed elves and stories of reindeer, the glow comes back to me by remembering what Christmas really means--that love came down to the earth, and we are able to grow and learn and change and live because of it. Christmas means giving to others, like those who gave to us, us giving to Roger, and all of the fun and excitement that comes by being a Christmas angel is someone else's life. The holiday is a time to spend with family and those who are dear, and to more earnestly seek out the Christ child who was born so humbly in Bethlehem. It occurs to me that, while our culture and our neighbors  may be out trying to find the best deals on last-minute minutia, it is perhaps infinitely better to be counted among those staying inside, seeking after the greatest gift of all--the Exaltation and Eternal Life which is promised to those who earnestly seek the Savior. This post is not to say that either myself or my family is perfect, but only to express how much I appreciate the time to step back out of mainstream Christmas and practice it in a way that brings more peace to me. As the wise men of old sought the baby Jesus not to ask for gifts or presents or healing or anything else they may have wanted, wise men and women still seek Him, bringing gifts of broken hearts and contrite spirits and lives worn out in His Service. I hope that as we keep Christmas this year, amidst everything else, we learn to keep it in our hearts, and truly keep it the whole year round. Merry Christmas.

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